BERNARD COLUMN: Is U.S. a backsliding democracy?

Published 10:30 am Friday, October 14, 2022

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By Jack Bernard
Bernard is a retired corporate executive

Biden’s 9-1-22 speech to the nation outlined how we are facing the rapid deterioration of our nation’s democratic underpinnings. He placed the blame clearly at the feet of Trump and MAGA Republicans. Was he correct?

Last year, a little commented on report was issued by the IDEA, a respected European group which regularly compares democracies around the world (Global Report | IDEA Global State of Democracy Report). We are usually listed in the stable category.

However, for the first time ever, the US was listed as going backwards … moving away from democracy. So, exactly what is this report? It’s an impartial analysis of democracy world-wide, nation by nation. It ranks countries as to the degree of democracy and their trends. Several key nations are back-sliding, including Brazil, India, Hungary, the Philippines … and the USA.

The report explains that the international decline is driven by the rise of — “illiberal and populist parties,” “societal and political polarization,” “economic crises” and “fake (and sometimes dangerous) news on social media.” Certainly, that is an accurate portrayal of what has gone on in our own country over the last decade. What the report does not do is to either — analyze the basic faults in our democracy underlying the national problem or discuss the inherent problems in modifying our Constitution in order to correct these issues.

There are two ways to change our Constitution. One method is to obtain an overwhelming vote of both Congress (two-thirds to approve) and then the states (three-fourths to ratify). Another is to have two-thirds of the states (i.e., 38 states) call for a constitutional convention, which could completely redo our form of government. 

It’s telling that since the founding of the Republic, there have only been 33 amendments approved by Congress … and only 27 ratified by the states (i.e., approved). Further, 12 of these (the Bill of Rights) were approved in 1789, near the time the Republic was founded. So, in over 230 years, the Constitution has only been changed 15 times. None have been successfully approved/ratified since 1992, thirty years ago. And that was before the current counterproductive tribalism in both parties took hold.

First, we must do away with the Electoral College, an archaic relic of colonial days. Presidents must be elected by direct popular vote. Second, it is unfair to have two senators from every state, regardless of population.Third, gerrymandering must be outlawed. By gerrymandering districts, political parties can ensure that their incumbents are reelected (both parties), ignoring the will of the American voters 

Fourth, a voter rights amendment must be passed/ratified to ensure that our citizens are able to cast their ballots. Fifth, we should make it easier to modify the Constitution itself. For example, having 60% of Congress approve and the states ratify, versus 2/3rds and 3/4ths.